Pastor Jim Melvin
If you have seen the Broadway musical Rent, the number 525,600 may ring a mental bell; it’s the number of minutes in a year. The average life expectancy of an American today is 78 years, a couple of years more if you are a female and a couple of years less if you are unfortunate enough to be a male. Male or female, our minutes are numbered, 41,776,800 to be exact if you live that average 78 years (not counting leap years).
41,776,800 is a big number; but it’s not THAT big a number. It’s way less than a billion. We talk about US budget deficits in billions and trillions of dollars. And as the popular astronomer Carl Sagan used to say with great emphasis, “There are BBBillions and BBBillions of stars in the universe.” Our lives are small and of short duration on a cosmic scale. This life is not infinite. The clock is ticking my friends; our clocks are ticking.
Thinking about this may call your attention to the clock ticking in your chest or even send you into a panic attack. That’s not my intention. To the contrary, I’d just like us to consider the opportunities for living represented by that pile of minutes so that we don’t waste them. Each minute is made more precious by its relative scarcity.
There’s an economics term that I hear my friends in business throwing around all the time, opportunity cost. Simply put, opportunity cost is the value you give up doing one thing when you choose to do something else. For example, when I choose to stay in bed for an extra hour in the morning, I’m giving up the opportunity to make money at work or the opportunity to enjoy an hour taking a walk or going fishing with my child. On the job, my boss might not be so happy to know that spending time playing Candy Crush on my phone is robbing me and him/her of the opportunity to get some work done.
It’s a matter of the choices we make on a minute by minute, day by day basis that will ultimately add up to a life well spent or a life wasted. We shouldn’t be obsessed by this kind of accounting of our lives; I’m don’t want to analyze my life on a spreadsheet. But here are some do’s and don’ts to make healthy choices about how to spend your time.
1) Cut back on screen time. Here’s a statistic that I find shocking. According to a Nielson Company audience report, the average American spends 10 hours and 39 minutes per day peering at some kind of screen consuming media. Although we spend more and more times on our personal devices, television is still the main consumer of our time. Consider the opportunity cost. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend interacting with our children or spouses. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could spend at exercise and healthy recreation. That’s 10 hours and 39 minutes a day we could volunteer to our church or service organization. I might even devote a few of those minutes taking a refreshing nap. In short, turn off the tv, put away the phones and tablets, and spend some time in the real world.
2) Spend more time in prayer, devotion, meditation, and other spiritual pursuits. As opposed to almost eleven hours we spend looking at screens, the average American spends about 8 minutes per day in prayer. (That’s actually a little higher than I expected.) Studies show that people who spend significant amounts of time praying and reading the Bible are healthier and live longer. Try devoting just five minutes to prayer when you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep at night. See how you feel. Also, maybe try to squeeze in 30 minutes reading the Bible or other devotional material.
3) Engage in meaningful conversations. It says in the Genesis creation story that it’s not good for us to be alone. Most of us would agree that there is nothing more important than our relationships. And yet, we seldom take the time to really talk to one another about important things like our feelings, our hopes and our fears. Sitting down to leisurely meals on a regular basis with the significant people in our lives encourages us to talk. And, of course, don’t bring the phone to the table and don’t watch tv. Just talk and chew.
4) Exercise. The Mayo Clinic says that 300 minutes of moderate exercise per week provides significant health benefits. They say that 150 minutes should be a minimum goal. Just going for brisk walks is good enough. If possible, walk in pleasant and peaceful surroundings. You might even try praying as you walk. Get double benefits for each minute spent in your perambulatory devotions. (No, I didn’t make up that word.)
5) Work hard. When you are on the job, or when you have important tasks to take care of, put your heart and your soul into it. When we are working hard and accomplishing something, we don’t have to worry about the opportunity costs. We are making good use of our time. After all, we have to get things done and make a living. No regrets here.
6) Chill. This is my favorite. Just spend some time doing nothing. I remember a Seinfeld episode where Elaine is sitting on an airplane with a friend. He asks, “What are you doing?” “Nothing,” she replies. “You have to be doing something,” he insists. “No, I’m just staring at the back of the seat.” “Boy, you really are doing nothing,” he finally admits. This may be the hardest one for you type-A people, really doing nothing. Once in a while, don’t worry about the opportunity costs. Just do nothing.
Well, that’s kind of a random list; but I hope you get the idea.
On a personal note, I’m almost 71. Assuming that I make it to 82 (that’s how long my dad and brother lived), I’ve got 5,781,600 minutes left. That’s 60 minutes less than when I sat down to write this. Talk about tick-tock. Here’s the way I’ve decided to game the system. I’m going to live each minute with Psalm 118:24 on my lips or at least in my heart: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Then how can I go wrong.